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“We’ll take you off. How many of you are there?”
Ralph shook his head. The officer looked past him to the group of painted boys.
“Who’s boss here?”
“I am,” said Ralph loudly.
A little boy who wore the remains of an extraordinary black cap on his red hair and who carried the remains of a pair of spectacles at his waist, started forward, then changed his mind and stood still.
“We saw your smoke. And you don’t know how many of you there are?”
It's funny, isn't it. The boy who starts forwards with his extraordinary cap, red hair, and a broken pair of spectacles is Jack. And by this stage of the novel Jack is firmly established in the narrative as the "Chief". Yet when they all run out on to the sand and find the naval officer, two things happen. Firstly, the venom drains out of them, and they submit to the authority of an adult - and remember the whole idea of being rescued.
Secondly, they become little boys again - we have forgotten for the most part of the novel that they are - and so their sense of right and wrong returns. No-one challenges Ralph, I think, because he was voted in, and everyone knows in their hearts that he is the real chief. And he steps forward. He takes responsibility. It's a positive moment, I think.
Lastly, it's a little memory of Piggy: "How many of you are there?". The only person who counted the littluns, right at the start, was Piggy, and perhaps Ralph steps forward partly remembering him. At the end of the chapter he'll cry for "the true wise friend called Piggy" - and Piggy would have kept up a "better show", had he only been allowed to be heard.
It's an interpretable moment. But that's what I think.
The ending of this novel always makes me so sad. Golding was a very gifted individual, and his books teach great lesson. :)
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